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Willow Grove Naval Air and Air Reserve Station Horsham PA

by Civilian Exposure

Updated 2/28/2017:

Thanks to reader feedback, we’ve been provided with a few additional bits of information and links that you may find relevant to the ongoing issue over Willow Grove.

Map of Contamination Near Willow Grove/Horsham:


This 1,200 acre site is comprised of the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove (NASJRB/WG) and the Willow Grove Air Reserve Station (WGARS), which are operating U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force installations, respectively, located in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. The installations are co-located within one perimeter and are located approximately 25 miles north of Philadelphia. Aircraft operations at the site began during the 1920s when the facility was named Pitcairn Airfield. The U.S. Navy acquired the airfield in 1942 and began jet training there in 1949. Currently, NASJRB/WG and WGARS provide materials, facilities, services, and training in direct support of all units assigned to the stations. The site was listed on the EPA’s National Priorities List on September 29, 1995.

Activities that generate, store, or dispose of hazardous waste at the facilities fall into four general categories: (1) aircraft maintenance; (2) base civil engineering; (3) fuel operation and (4) personnel training. Sources of potential contamination on Navy property include, but are not necessarily limited to, the Privet Road Compound, Antenna Field Landfill, Ninth Street Landfill, the former Fire Training Area and a fuel farm.

On the Air Force property, a washrack area, a stormwater retention basin, a fuel farm, and a number of hazardous waste storage areas have been identified as potential sources of contamination.

Analysis of groundwater samples collected from wells located near the Privet Road Compound area, which is near the border of the Navy and Air Force properties revealed contamination from various chemicals. Samples from two Navy drinking water supply wells showed levels of tetrachlorethene (PCE) above EPA-established health-based levels. Water form the Navy potable water production wells receives preliminary treatment (air stripping) to remove volatile organic compounds (such as PCE) before entering a storage tank. Treated water in the storage tank is monitored to ensure no levels of potentially harmful contaminants are reached. Water from the storage tank is further treated for bacterial disinfection and testing prior to distribution throughout the base for drinking and other uses.

Over 800 employees at the two facilities may consume or come into contact with treated water from the Navy supply wells. The source(s) of contamination found in groundwater is under investigation by EPA Site Assessment Branch.

What is the current site status?

  • The EPA is sampling private drinking water wells in the area of Willow Grove Naval Air station Joint Reserve Base in Horsham, PA for perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), including perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).
  • As of January 9, 2015, of the 333 wells identified to be sampled, 206 have been sampled and 182 wells have validated results. There are 37 wells which exceed provisional health advisory levels of 0.2 micrograms per liter of water for PFOS and 0.4 micrograms per liter of water for PFOS. There are 51 properties receiving bottled water.
  • Site 1 groundwater is contaminated with PCE and TCE from a suspected off base source and Site 5 groundwater is contaminated with several VOCs.
  • The Bioremediation pilot study at Site 5 is installed and operating. The sodium bicarbonate is being added to raise the pH of the groundwater. Lactate will be added as the substrate (to feed the bugs). The need for bioaugmentation will be evaluated.
  • At Site 3 studies revealed historical landfill activity. There are ongoing investigations to access the nature and extent of landfill activities.
  • The Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR) has performed a Public Health Assessment of the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base & Air Reserve Station Willow Grove and found “No Apparent” threats to public health or to the environment. This ATSDR document is dated September 2001.

What’s being done to protect human health and the environment?

  • The site is being addressed through federal actions. The long-term remedy for soil at Site 1 Privet Road included no further remedial action following cleanup activities in 1999.
  • EPA selected the long-term remedy groundwater at Site 1 Privet Road in 2008 and design of land use controls is ongoing.
  • Investigations at the Site 3 Ninth Street Landfill are ongoing.
  • The long-term remedy for Site 6 Abandoned Rifle Range No. 1, Site 7 Abandoned Rifle Range No. 2, and soil at Site 5 Fire Training Area included no further action.

*Note – We’ve posted, verbatim, the information from the EPA on Willow Grove on this page rather than simply sharing a link.  This is to maintain an ongoing record of the information to-date as of October 2015, in the event it is edited or removed from their site in the future. You can view the link to the EPA page at the bottom of this post.

For more details about Willow Grove, please visit this link: Willow Grove Naval Air Station – EPA Superfund Site

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